President Barack Obama edges out GOP opponent Mitt Romney 47 percent to 45 percent in a new Nevada poll that shows Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, evenly splitting voters in the battleground state, too.
Nevada voters are sharply divided on whether Ryan helps or hurts the GOP ticket and on whether they support or oppose the conservative Wisconsin congressman's plan to reform Medicare for future retirees, according to the survey commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and KLAS-TV 8 NewsNow.
About 42 percent of likely Nevada voters polled said Romney's selection of Ryan as his vice presidential pick doesn't influence their presidential choice.
But 28 percent said they're more likely to vote for Romney with Ryan on the ticket, while 29 percent said they're more likely to vote now for Obama, who is campaigning in North Las Vegas today and was in Reno on Tuesday.
"Ryan attracts to the Romney ticket as many voters as he repels," said pollster Jay H. Leve of SurveyUSA, which conducted the survey. "I consider him a net wash. You can't really point to anything in the poll that shows he's helping Romney, and you can't really point to anything that shows he's hurting Romney."
Still, the Ryan pick, announced Aug. 11, excited Nevada Republicans, with 48 percent saying they're more likely to vote for Romney, who had trouble consolidating conservatives during the primary season. Conversely, 48 percent of Democrats said they're more likely to back Obama's re-election with Ryan on the GOP ticket.
Independents narrowly favored the Ryan selection, with 32 percent saying they're more likely to vote for Romney with him on the GOP ticket and 25 percent saying they're more likely to pick Obama. Overall, Romney is leading Obama among independent voters statewide, 44 percent to 39 percent.
On the Medicare question, 70 percent of those surveyed said they're "familiar with Paul Ryan's thinking on Medicare," which was not described in the poll question. Asked whether they backed Ryan's Medicare plan, 48 percent said they supported his ideas, 47 percent said they were opposed and the rest weren't sure.
Republicans backed Ryan's Medicare plan overwhelmingly with 78 percent support, Democrats strongly opposed it at 81 percent, and independents slightly favored it, 49 percent to 45 percent, the poll showed.
The Democratic Party is criticizing the GOP ticket on Medicare, saying Ryan's plan would "end Medicare as we know it" by changing the program into a voucher system for future retirees who are currently younger than 55. Republicans say they're trying to keep Medicare from going bankrupt and won't cheat seniors of benefits.
The first Nevada survey taken since Romney added Ryan as his running mate showed the pick didn't shake up the presidential race here, but it appeared to further harden the partisan divide that shows Nevadans split on whether to return Obama to the White House or replace him on Nov. 6 with Romney.
As a result, Obama continues to run on shaky ground in Nevada, which is economically the nation's hardest-hit state with unemployment at 12 percent and record home foreclosures and bankruptcies. Obama easily won Nevada by 12 percentage points four years ago but has been struggling to regain traction here.
"He has some ground to make up," Leve said of the Democratic incumbent. "You'd prefer to be in his position today than you would prefer to be in Romney's position. But it's really a fiercely fought contest in Nevada right now, and every vote is critical."
The automated telephone poll was conducted by SurveyUSA on landlines and cellphones from Thursday through Tuesday morning and in English or Spanish, depending on the voter's preferred language. A total of 869 likely voters were surveyed statewide. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Those polled included 39 percent registered Democrats, 36 percent registered Republicans and 23 percent registered as independents. That roughly reflects the current Nevada electorate, although Democrats account for more than 41 percent and are expanding their advantage.
Hispanics accounted for 19 percent of those surveyed, which is several percentage points higher than actual turnout at 15 percent of the electorate in the past two elections, in 2010 and 2008.
Four years ago, Obama overwhelmingly won the Latino vote with about three-quarters of Hispanics in Nevada choosing him over his GOP opponent, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
The new SurveyUSA poll showed Obama and Romney dividing the Hispanic vote 48 percent for the president and 47 percent for the former Massachusetts governor - a result even the pollster questioned. In June, a Latino Decisions poll showed Obama leading Romney among Hispanics, 69 percent to 20 percent.
"We were surprised by the Hispanic result, too," Leve said, adding it's difficult to accurately survey Latinos. "It raised some eyebrows, but that is a snapshot and that is what we see."
Obama's biggest strength is among female voters, who favored him 52 percent to 40 percent over Romney.
Romney won male voters 49 percent to 42 percent over the president.
Generally, Obama did better among younger voters and Romney among older voters. Obama won the majority of voters with incomes less than $40,000, while Romney won a majority of voters with incomes of $80,000 or more, and they split middle-income groups.
By region, Obama's strength remains in Southern Nevada, where Democrats prevail. He had 52 percent support in Clark County to 39 percent for Romney. In Washoe County, a swing county in the swing state, Romney was leading Obama, 52 percent to 41 percent. As expected, Romney also was winning sparsely populated rural Nevada, 61 percent to 30 percent, where Republicans far outnumber Democrats.
Two months before early voting begins Oct. 20 in Nevada, Democratic and Republican voters alike were becoming more energized and loyal to their presidential candidates. Eighty percent said they were backing Romney "enthusiastically" while 77 percent said they were supporting Obama with the same level of enthusiasm. About one-fifth of the voters backing each man said they were doing so "with reservations."
Dave Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said attitudes are pretty well set in the presidential race, although millions will be spent to sway very few undecided voters. Romney needs to make gains in Clark County to win, and Obama needs to shore up Washoe County, Damore said.
In the end, the outcome will come down to which party gets the most hard- core voters to the polls Nov. 6.
"There's just not a lot of movement, so it really comes down to turning people out," Damore said.
Ultimately, most analysts and insiders believe the White House race will turn on the economy as Obama makes the case for continuing his efforts to support the middle class over the rich and Romney calls for no tax hikes and a more business-friendly environment to spur job creation and growth.
The Obama campaign, responding to the new poll, said Romney and Ryan "are on the wrong side of every issue that's important to Nevadans," from immigration to the housing crisis to economic fairness.
"Romney and Ryan's top-down plan would give trillions in tax breaks skewed to the wealthiest and pay for it by raising taxes on the middle class and deeply cutting critical investments like education, energy, infrastructure, veterans and Medicare," said Aoife McCarthy, Nevada spokeswoman for Obama's campaign.
"While Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would cut social programs that Hispanics depend on in order to cut taxes for the very rich and promote the same economic policies that led our economy to the brink of collapse, the president has turned our economy from losing 750,000 jobs a month when he took office, to creating 4.5 million private-sector jobs over the past 29 months," McCarthy added.
The Romney campaign said it's telling that Obama has gone from winning Nevada four years ago by 12 percentage points to being statistically tied at just two points ahead of Romney this close to Election Day.
"This is another indication of just how devastating an Obama presidency has been to Nevada," said Darren Littell, a top GOP operative working with Romney's Nevada campaign. "We lead the nation in unemployment, have a staggering foreclosure rate and a president that doesn't understand the economy and is hostile to Nevada's small businesses. It's no wonder Obama is polling a full 10 percent below where he was four years ago."
Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.